Your Morning Ethics Update On The George Floyd Freakout

I was musing early yesterday about whether calling the current reaction/over-reaction/ exploitation/ “Hey great now we can do all kinds of stuff because nobody will dare say no to us!” to the George Floyd video a “freakout” was excessively denigrating it, trivializing or misrepresenting it.  I decided it was all three. By the end of yesterday, I realized I was wrong.

I’ll still use the “George Floyd Ethics Train Wreck” tag on posts  emanating  from this madness, but ethics train wrecks, situations where virtually anyone who gets involved instantly engages in unethical conduct, are more rational than ethics freakouts, which are almost entirely fueled by emotion, hysteria, hate, present time perspective, and mob mentality.

I haven’t used the description often here, but looking back through the lens of history, I’d list among past freakouts the Salem witch trials,  the French Revolution and “The Terror,”  World War I, the Holocaust, and the U.S.’s ” Red Scare.” There are others; I’m not looking to compile the definitive list.  The definition of a freakout, as opposed to a an ethics train wreck, is partially that once the fever has passed, virtually everyone looks back on the event and thinks, “What the hell? How did that happen? What was wrong with those people?” The other distinguishing factor is that while wise members of a society will contend with each other during an ethics train wreck and try to stop the runaway train, the tendency of the un-freaked during  a freakout is to try to keep their heads down,  avoid making eye contact, and if confronted with one of the raving, just nod and mutter, “Sure. Whatever you say.”

THAT, as the partial list above demonstrates, is a dire mistake. Ethics freakouts get people killed, and do damage to lives and society that can take decades to repair. Continue reading

Observations On The Times Review Of “Apropos Of Nothing”

Woody Allen in “Manhattan” with a 16-year-old Mariel Hemingway (playing a 17-year-old)

To be clear, I haven’t read Woody Allen’s autobiography, “Apropos of Nothing,” and I won’t. I found myself unable to endure anything related to Allen after he married his own quasi-daughter following a sexual affair with her while they were both living with Mia Farrow, Allen as her supposed lover and domestic partner, Sun-Yi Previn as her adopted child. While I maintain that the works of artists should be kept separate from the character flaws and misdeeds of their creators, that’s an intellectual and ethical position, not an emotional and gastrointestinal one. The latter are non-ethical considerations, but that doesn’t mean I can ignore them.

If I were a professional book reviewer, however, I would be forced to put my revulsion aside, or refuse the assignment of rendering a verdict on “Apropos of Nothing.” It is undeniable that the New York Times book reviewer, Dwight Garner, couldn’t or wouldn’t do that. To be fair, the Times no longer enforces the core journalism ethics principle that journalists shouldn’t allow personal biases to infect their reporting, but that is an explanation, not a defense. Some observations: Continue reading

Stop Making Me Defend Woody Allen! And Another Victory For The Illiberal Mob…

This blog certainly forces me to defend some  unsavory characters.

Woody Allen is one among the small group of artists who I find so personally repellent that I can’t enjoy their work even while recognizing and appreciating its excellence. That does not mean, however, thatAllen’s work is not important nor that his life and career lack cultural significance. As I wrote here,

“I found myself unable to enjoy any of Allen’s films after he cheated on his de facto wife with his de facto daughter. I also don’t believe in enriching, even indirectly, horrible people in their professional endeavors if I can conveniently avoid it.”

That, however, is a personal choice that I would never impose on others, nor on the arbiters and trustees of culture, as it would be unethical to do so. Thus I wrote, just a few days ago, of Ronin Farrow’s demand that his publishers refuse to hand Allen’s memoirs because he believes his sister’s account that Allen sexually abused her when she was a child,

“I yield to no one in my contempt for Woody Allen as a human being, but he is a major figure in film and cultural history, and his memoirs are of obvious value and interest. Farrow’s publisher’s obligation is to readers and stockholders, not the sensibilities of one author.”

Now we learn that the publishers have been intimidated into dropping Allen’s book after all:

Hachette Book Group on Friday dropped its plans to publish Woody Allen’s autobiography and said it would return all rights to the author, a day after its employees protested its deal with the filmmaker“The decision to cancel Mr. Allen’s book was a difficult one,” a spokeswoman for the publisher said in a statement. “We take our relationships with authors very seriously, and do not cancel books lightly. We have published and will continue to publish many challenging books. As publishers, we make sure every day in our work that different voices and conflicting points of views can be heard.”

But she added that Hachette executives had discussed the matter with employees and, “after listening, we came to the conclusion that moving forward with publication would not be feasible for HBG.”

There are those pesky rationalizations again! Oh, it’s a hard decision, so that excuses it from being a bad decision. This is 19 B. Murkowski’s Lament, or “It was a difficult decision” again, which I reviewed yesterday. Next, we get this nauseating sequence, which perfectly embodies 64, Yoo’s Rationalization, or “It isn’t what it is!”

The statement says that “We have published and will continue to publish many challenging books. As publishers, we make sure every day in our work that different voices and conflicting points of views can be heard,’ and follows it up by saying that it will not publish this “challenging book” and thus this different voice and conflicting point of view  will not be heard. Seldom does such complete hypocrisy define itself in the span of so few sentences.

The “difficult” decision that contradicts the company’s stated values results from nothing better than cowardly capitulating to a mob carrying out the goals of cancel culture. In this case, those goals include infringing on free speech and the public’s right to know, if they want to know. Our democratic ideals and the principles enunciated in the Bill of Rights have no chance of surviving if those who own and run companies like Hachette emulate the spineless administrators of educational institutions and dissolve into pools of passive submission every time holding to those ideals and principles threatens to entail a risk of sacrifice or adverse consequences. Continue reading

Do I Really Have To Explain To Anyone But Gwyneth Paltrow What’s Wrong With Hiring A “Book Curator”?

Oh God, I hope not.

From Town and Country:

[B]ooks aren’t just for reading, they can also be beautiful objects in and of themselves. Thatcher Wine, a long-time bibliophile and collector, tapped into this concept in 2001, sourcing rare, out-of-print books to build beautiful libraries based on interest, author, and even color for his clients. Since then, Wine has curated the bookshelves of Gwyneth Paltrow and New York’s NoMad hotel; fans include Laura Dern and Shonda Rhimes.

One way I identify a stone-cold phony is when their living room includes a chess board on which the pieces are set up incorrectly or the white corner squares are on the left, not the right. This means that the resident doesn’t know how to play chess, but wants people to think he or she does. In my view, such a visual lie is like hanging a diploma of a school you didn’t attend, or a military decoration that isn’t yours. (I give a pass to people who have grand pianos or harps in the homes; they are beautiful, and if the owner doesn’t mind looking foolish when he or she has to answer the question, “Do you play?” with “No,” that also is useful information.)

Hiring someone to put books in your library because they look nice is exactly like the misleading chessboard. I now know all I need to know about Gwyneth Paltrow,  Laura Dern and Shonda Rhimes. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/15/18: Money, Massacres, Mudd And More

Good morning.

1. Another mass shooting, another explosion of demagoguery. Reading various rants from usually smarter Facebook friends after one of these mass shootings—there is now literally no difference in the reactions or the rhetoric; it’s like a TV show re-run—is just boring and annoying at this point. I wrote to one, a lawyer, who had immediately erupted into furious insults hurled at the NRA, Republicans, and the President, followed by lots of “likes’ and near identical blather, in the wake of the Parkland shooting yesterday:

“Anyone making the anti-NRA argument is obligated to articulate exactly what regulations not already in existence would have stopped the Florida shooting. Banning guns and confiscating guns are not going to happen, can’t happen and shouldn’t happen, and anyone who claims they can is being ignorant or dishonest. The reflex response of anti-gun advocates is to appeal to anger and emotion every time, usually, as in this case, without even knowing all the facts. So they get tuned out, and deserve to get tuned out, as do grandstanding demagogues like Sen. Christopher Murphy. “Do something!” is not a policy, and removing rights from law-abiding citizens because crazies and criminals abuse those rights is neither just nor practical.”

I’ll report if he or any of the “Do something!” and “Think of the children!” hysterics respond with something constructive.

Murphy was, as usual, on his feet and making his time-tested facile argument about how “this happens nowhere else” before the full information regarding what had happened was available. Yes, Senator, this happens more often in the United States because this country values individual liberty more than other nations, and because, so far, at least, we don’t take away individual rights because we know rights will be abused. We also don’t lock up people who act and talk crazy based on mere words because we think they might commit a horrible crime. THAT was a civil libertarian-led reform and a noble one, back when the Left believed in the rights of individuals, unlike now. Once, when people like the Parkland shooter started scaring people, we just committed them, and they could spend decades or a lifetime  loaded-up with Thorazine and locked  away in padded rooms. My great uncle was such a man. After about 50 years, the doctors decided that he had never been crazy after all, but by then he couldn’t function outside the institution, so they let him stay. He never shot anyone, though, so there is that.

I have a suggestion to Murphy and his colleagues, however, as well as to the mainstream news media that is revving into its usual anti-gun act.  The most productive thing they could do might be to reduce the hateful, angry, fear-stoking rhetoric that they have bombarded the nation with for over a year. I believe that the atmosphere of constant conflict and uncertainty, along with non-stop accusations and allegations of dark forces lurking and preparing to pounce may make some unstable people more likely to snap and adopt the Sweeney Todd philosophy, in the words of Stephen Sondheim:

They all deserve to die.
Tell you why, Mrs. Lovett, tell you why.
Because in all of the whole human race
Mrs. Lovett, there are two kinds of men and only two
There’s the one staying put in his proper place
And the one with his foot in the other one’s face
Look at me, Mrs Lovett, look at you.

No, we all deserve to die
Even you, Mrs. Lovett, Even I.
Because the lives of the wicked should be made brief
For the rest of us death will be a relief
We all deserve to die.

2. Mudd doesn’t deserve to die, just to be fired. CNN counterterrorism analyst Philip Mudd broke down on the air sobbing last night while discussing the school shooting on CNN, blubbering,

“I have 10 nieces and nephews. We’re talking about bump stocks, we’re talking about legislation. A child of God is dead. Can not we acknowledge in this country that we cannot accept this?…I can’t do it, Wolf,” he then said to his host, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “I’m sorry, we can’t do it.” Blitzer then cut away to a different analyst.

If you can’t do it, you self-indulgent hack, then stop appearing on television. It’s called “professionalism.” Professionals are supposed to be able to do their jobs without being incapacitated by emotion. News professionals are obligated to be able to inform the public about tragedies without falling apart. That wasn’t analysis. That was virtue-signalling and grandstanding. Continue reading